This Sunday at 3pm the NFC Championship Game will take place in Atlanta. The Falcons will be hosting their old NFC West rivals, the 49ers. Atlanta is getting no respect, opening as 3-point underdogs in a building where they are 34-6 with Matt Ryan at QB. The spread has risen to 4 the past few days.
The Falcons have won the past four and six of the last nine vs San Francisco. But that was before Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach of the Niners before the 2011 season. The Niners own the series edge, 44-29-1.
This is the 14th NFC Championship Game appearance for the 49ers. They have won five and lost eight since the game’s genesis after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. They appeared in the first two games, losing to Dallas both times.
The Falcons, who entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1966, will playing in only their third NFC title game. They won in 1998, beating Minnesota in overtime. They went to lose in the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos, 34-19. In 2004, they were bested by the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.
FOXSports’ Brian Billick previews the NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Falcons.
Here are some things to look for in this year’s game, courtesy NFL Media Dept:
CLOSE GAMES: The NFC Championship Game has featured close games in each of the past five seasons, including three overtime games. There have been five consecutive NFC Championship Games that were decided by seven points or fewer, the longest streak in conference championship game history.
The NFC’s No. 2 seed San Francisco (12-4-1) will travel this Sunday to play the No. 1 seed Atlanta (14-3). The Falcons had 10 games this season that finished within seven points or fewer, including last week’s 30-28 win over Seattle, while San Francisco had four such games.
POSTSEASON SUCCESS: San Francisco advanced to its 14th NFC Championship Game last week and tied Dallas (14) for the second-most appearances in a conference championship game since 1970. The 49ers (27) have the fourth-most postseason wins in NFL history and are tied for the fifth-most Super Bowl appearances (five).
With a win against Atlanta on Sunday, San Francisco can earn its sixth Super Bowl berth, tying Denver (six) for the fourth-most ever. The 49ers have won all five of their Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX).
FALCONS AIMING HIGH: Atlanta started the season 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and finished with a 13-3 record, earning the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
The Falcons became the ninth team since realignment in 2002 to start a season 8-0 and with a victory Sunday over San Francisco, they would become the fifth such team to reach the Super Bowl. Two of the four teams to accomplish the feat went on to win the Super Bowl (2006 Indianapolis and 2009 New Orleans).
WINNING FORMULA: San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh has compiled a 6-8-1 (.757) record in his first two seasons (including postseason), leading his team to two NFC West titles and a second consecutive NFC Championship Game.
Harbaugh became the fifth head coach since 1970 to reach the conference championship game in each of his first two seasons, joining Don McCafferty, Rex Ryan, George Seifert and Barry Switzer.
With a win at Atlanta on Sunday, Harbaugh (26) can tie Steve Mariucci (27) for the third-most victories by a head coach in his first two seasons in NFL history (including playoffs).
NO EXPERIENCE NEEDED: San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a 5-2 regular-season record as a starter and led the 49ers to their second consecutive NFC Championship game last week with 181 rushing yards, the most by a quarterback in an NFL game in regular-season or postseason history.
With Kaepernick starting this weekend against Atlanta, San Francisco would become the first team since the 1986-1987 Washington Redskins (Jay Schroeder in 1986; Doug Williams in 1987) to start different quarterbacks in consecutive conference championship games. Eight teams have started different quarterbacks in consecutive conference championship games since the merger.
With a start, Kaepernick (seven) would tie Pat Haden (seven) for the fourth-fewest regular season starts by a starting quarterback in an NFC-AFC Championship Game. Jeff Hostetler of the New York Giants only had four regular season starts before the 1990 NFC Championship Game.
SENSATIONAL SAMUEL: Atlanta cornerback Asante Sam playeduel in his 20th career postseason game last week and has amassed four interception-return touchdowns and 227 interception-return yards, the most in postseason history. His seven playoff interceptions are tied for the sixth-most in NFL postseason history.
With an interception this Sunday, Samuel could add to his league leading totals and tie Ed Reed (eight) and Lester Hayes (eight) for the fourth-most INTs in postseason history.
NFC TROPHY PRESENTATION: The winner of the NFC Championship Game will be presented with the George Halas Trophy.
Halas, the late owner of the Chicago Bears and a founder of the NFL, is the second-winningest coach in history (324-151-31) behind Don Shula (347-173-6). He won six NFL championships with the Bears and is a charter enshrinee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963).